Family believes mold led to Portales man’s death

By Kevin Wilson

Marcelino Garcia died in May of 2001. Nearly two years and two months later, his surviving family is still seeking a resolution.
Garcia, a longtime Portales resident, died less than two days after a visiting his son at the Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, and the family has filed a claim that toxic mold in his base housing unit caused Marcelino’s death and other various health problems.
A settlement would likely include a monetary settlement to cover medical bills and a remedy of the housing situation, the family’s attorney said.
“We’re just kind of devastated with all of the problems my brother has been having and not being able to get assistance from Holloman,” said Margie Tarango, who works with the Portales Municipal Schools. Tarango is the daughter of Marcelino Garcia and the sister of Master Sgt. Dennis Garcia.
Tarango thinks that Dennis and his family are getting “the runaround” from the base.
While Holloman officials won’t speak directly about a current claim, Director of Public Affairs Maj. John Bryan insists the Air Force is doing what it can with what is a statistical anomaly.
“First off, we don’t have a mold problem,” Bryan said. “We’ve had three reports of mold out of 14,000. You can do the math yourself, that’s a very small number.”
The other two cases, Bryan said, dealt with leakage behind a dishwasher and surface mold in the shower.
“The Air Force is proactive on these cases,” Bryan continued. “When (residents) first come into housing, they’re given pamphlets about how to take care of evaporative coolers (and other items that can produce mold). We want people to be proactive and be those eyes and ears.”
Dennis, an environmental coordinator who is retiring from the Air Force in mid-July, said he did take precautions for his father, who was receiving peritoneal dialysis at the time.
“It’s been very, very hard on us,” Dennis Garcia said. “I took all of the precautions necessary, but that still didn’t change the outcome. He should have never died.”
A dialysis port in Marcelino’s abdomen could have left him more open to diseases, the Garcias and family attorney Brent Bailey said.
The housing was tested twice in the summer of 2002, and Bailey said the tests discovered “off the chart” amounts of mold.
It was then that the family thought the mold had some relation to Marcelino’s death.
“We had no idea (at the time),” Dennis Garcia said. “Mold didn’t even cross our mind.”
The family also claims that the mold has contributed to health problems for Dennis, wife Inez and children Nicolas and Deja.
The family filed a formal complaint to Holloman in late February. The claim is currently in what Bailey said is a six-month tort period. As outlined in the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government has six months to respond to any claim.
Bailey said the claim is now halfway through that period.
“We haven’t heard anything at all from the Air Force,” Bailey said. “They’re in the middle of their analysis period, but they’re not forthcoming with the analysis that we feel is important.”
Such information, Bailey explained, deals with construction on housing units in 1996. Bailey thinks that a contractor might have done substandard work while converting duplexes from a flat-roof format to a pitch-roof format.
“As far as being forthcoming, I’m sure we’re doing the best we can. We’re aware of the Garcia claim, we’re aware of the Garcia family. It’s just in the adjudication stage right now.”
At the end of the six-month period, the Holloman Legal Office will send recommendations to the Legal Headquarters for Claims and Torts. If a claim is denied, the Garcias can take legal action.